Babies in the fridge

I’m in two minds over the effectiveness of online petitions, one the one hand they can be extremely useful in terms of raising public awareness of a particular issue, on the other, there is no guarantee of them getting to debate stage and even if they do, overwhelming public opinion seems to be ignored when MPs are voting on legislative issues. The petition against the redefinition of marriage serves as useful illustration; despite garnering over 668,000 signatures, an unprecedented number in contrast to the 66,203 signatures in favour of the redefinition, the measure comes into force on the 29th March, with my home city Brighton and Hove, likely to offer the very first ceremony, taking place in the Royal Pavillion at one minute past midnight, for a selected winner of a competition. (One of the comments on this is very telling, stating that same-sex couples have not previously had the opportunity to ‘try’ marriage).

Regardless of where one stands on the issue of same-sex marriage, democracy and public opinion do not seem to have been served well by online petitions which seem to be little more than a gimmick designed to present the illusion of democracy in action.

With that in mind, I have come across an extremely worthy online petition which due to its unsensational nature will probably receive very little support. It is unlikely that even 100,000 signatures will take this to debate stage, but it will nonetheless trigger a response and hopefully a legislative change.

The Mariposa Trust, who are responsible for the Saying GoodBye organisation who organise services of remembrance for those unborn babies lost to miscarriage in Cathedrals spread throughout the UK, are wishing to campaign to legislate for the treatment of women who are experiencing miscarriage.

Saying Goodbye offers Anglican Services, which unsurprisingly are often customised with secular elements, nonetheless their ministry is an important one, contributing to  and consolidating a pro-life ethos in the UK, because they recognise that parents lose a baby and grieve no matter what stage in pregnancy they were in. These services give parents a formal opportunity to mark and mourn the loss of their child, which is often denied to them, thanks to the way that miscarriage is dealt with by hospitals.

While it is not right to attempt to claim Saying Goodbye for the pro-life movement, I have no idea where the founders stand on the subject of abortion and would not wish their organisation to be leveraged, they exist purely to help bereaved parents and not to judge, nevertheless their very existence makes life uncomfortable for those who would promote early stage abortion. The issue of bereavement is a complex one, it is undoubtedly true that parents who experience miscarriage do suffer very profoundly. As do many women who have been through the process of abortion, even if it was what they believed to be the right option. This young woman describes how she cried and grieved for her baby after an early stage abortion – fortunately the medication did not work, her baby is due later this year and she bitterly regrets opting for an abortion in the first place.

Not every women who experiences an abortion will suffer from grief, however Saying Goodbye would not disbar post-abortive women from attending their services which are open to all and therefore it is highly likely that they could prove a source of comfort both to women and extended family alike. Their sensitively worded blurb, invites anyone who has experienced any type of infant loss to attend the services, no matter how historic, although they are not a specific ministry for post-abortive mothers.  We shouldn’t adopt a partisan attitude – an organisation that seeks to acknowledge and recognise the humanity inherent in the unborn child, by accepting and marking a loss, deserves our full support and makes a valuable contribution to the dignity and protection of the unborn.

Anyway, the petition itself wishes to end the practice of women being instructed by hospitals to keep the bodies of their miscarried babies in their fridge, until such time as the hospital is ready to accept the baby. This is common practice, especially at weekends and is particularly barbaric. When we lost Raphael a few months ago and were waiting to see if a miscarriage may occur spontaneously, this is what we were instructed to do and I was dreading the process of having to retrieve his or her tiny body. Woman are reporting being instructed to buy tupperware containers precisely for the purpose of storing the baby, indeed we had an ice cream tub at the ready.

The internet was a tremendous source of help and practical information which was not given to us by the hospital and upon reading various Mumsnet threads, I was horrified to discover that women are by and large expected to miscarry at home if they opt for a medical management of the procedure. I read numerous terrifying tales of women having to be blue-lighted into hospital due to excessive blood loss, as well as of incomplete procedures. Coincidentally a woman privately hooked up with me in the Brighton area who had also discovered that her baby had died. As her pregnancy was not as far as advanced as mine, she was not admitted into hospital, being given the medication to administer at home, which had not worked. She frantically messaged me to ask about bedspace and staff on the ward as she was desperate for medical attention, support and reassurance. Following repeated attempts to induce the miscarriage with medication, a process that involved several hospital trips and being what she felt was ‘fobbed off’, she ended up needing surgery six weeks later. As far as the stretched department at our local hospital was concerned, she was not in any immediate danger, her baby had died and while her distress was unfortunate, she was not a priority.

No petition is going to ease the pressure on the over-burdened NHS, however I was left with the impression that overall the standards of care for women who suffer a miscarriage are very patchy. We were fortunate to receive excellent and compassionate care, although there was a brief crisis due to a lack of available doctors and theatre at 2am, but judging by Mumsnet threads, I seem to be in the minority.

Woman are routinely encouraged not to request remains of a 13 week baby, standard procedure is that they are kept by the hospital and sent to the crematorium to be sensitively dealt with en masse with your baby’s name or details being added to a book of remembrance. Most mothers are in too much of a fug to want to think about ‘foetal remains’ as they are called and so this often seems like the easiest and most straightforward option, although from our perspective we felt a duty and responsibility to our baby to accompany them on their last journey and accord Christian burial rites and so we requested the remains.

The hospital were quite flummoxed, there were the inevitable paperwork snafus as this was an unusual request and upon leaving we were given a container with the foetus inside, they were unwilling and unable to store this for us until such time as we could arrange for burial.

And so it was that as I left the hospital in which I had given birth to three live children, leaving the floor and the lift forever associated with newborns in carseats and ante-natal appointments, clinging on to Robin feebly due to having lost almost 2 litres of blood, instead of the newborn in the carseat, Robin had the foetus in a jar in his oversized coat pocket.

We weren’t able to bury the baby for another 10 days, so for that time they remained in the fridge, which was tricky and distressing with four children in the house. It was only thanks to Robin’s contacts in the funeral industry that we knew that a tiny wicker casket could be sourced and again thanks to the support of our parish priest that we were able to lay Raphael to rest in the memorial garden/flowerbed of the church. It’s enormously comforting having a resting place.

(Trolls who suggested that I was faking or simulating my pregnancy ought to come and have a word with my husband. Likewise while you were hectoring me and writing letters in green ink to my employers because you were annoyed by some petty account for which I was not responsible and would not engage with or acknowledge, digital engagement was not a priority for me at this time, perhaps you ought to rethink that with our baby in the fridge we had other more pressing matters to think about). 

At time of writing I should be into my third trimester of pregnancy and Christmas was difficult at times – there will always be a missing stocking. The comfort of our religious faith has made this an easier time than for many, both in terms of accessing available support and the logistics of organising a burial.

No mother should be instructed to keep her baby in the fridge at any stage in gestation or for any period of time and neither should she be treated as inconvenience if she finds herself needing to access counselling services weeks later, for which there are often long NHS waiting lists. Which is why I believe that this petition is worth signing.

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